Telling Cancer to Take a Hike


Innovation milestone is a message of authentic hope for local cancer patients

By Matthew Gevaert, Ph.D., and W. Jeffrey Edenfield, MD

Cancer innovation and hiking the Appalachian Trail have a few things in common.

Neither happens overnight; the AT typically takes five to seven months, and meaningful innovation in cancer research can take five to seven years or more, start to finish.

Both are marked by increasingly significant milestones as the end goal nears. In the case of the AT, certain literal “mile” stones are of special importance on each hiker’s 2,189-mile trek.

On the cancer innovation side, we achieved one of those significant milestones on Dec. 14 when Greenville Health System and KIYATEC announced an enhanced partnership that will soon bring Upstate cancer patients access to a series of groundbreaking diagnostic tests.

These tests could accurately predict which drugs a patient will respond to before he receives a single treatment, potentially saving patients months of ineffective, toxic, and expensive chemotherapies.

And because of our unique partnership, this will happen in Greenville first – before anywhere else in the world.

It is unusual within health care that a hospital would allow a company to locate within its walls, enabling private-sector leadership to rub shoulders and bump elbows with oncologists and cancer-care professionals in the same place where patients are being treated.

But GHS embraced this concept, and it has proved to be a formula for success.  Predicting how a patient will respond to a specific drug is an enormous challenge that many researchers have unsuccessfully tried to overcome. But KIYATEC may have done it through studying tissues from more than 500 patients across many cancers, the majority of whom were treated at GHS.

Using these tissues, KIYATEC has conducted “blinded” clinical studies, first in ovarian cancer, initially with GHS and later with other institutions. They are blinded in that although a patient-specific prediction is made, KIYATEC does not share this information with the participating oncologists, and also in that KIYATEC does not receive any information about the patient’s identity. Thus, test information does not influence any treatment decisions until test performance has been sufficiently evaluated.

Here’s where it gets really exciting. The early data from these blinded clinical studies is now in, showing up to 93 percent accuracy predicting how women who are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer will respond to platinum chemotherapy, the most common drug for patients in this situation. The test makes a prediction within seven days; each patient’s response or nonresponse in real life can take up to 12 months to determine.

Now, with confidence in the test’s performance, we are jointly ready to move into the next phase of innovation. GHS and KIYATEC have agreed to an enhanced partnership, in which GHS will serve as KIYATEC’s flagship clinical institution for the “unblinded” clinical studies.

There is a huge difference in these studies compared with the prior ones, because in these studies KIYATEC’s data will be released to the clinicians, who will now have the benefit of the response prediction for each enrolled patient. It is a win for KIYATEC: The company has done a lot of great things, but it has never used its data to help improve a patient’s outcome, which is a core element of the company’s mission.

But, it is also a win for GHS, and most importantly, GHS’ cancer patients, who through the study will be eligible to receive individually guided care in a way that initially no other patients, at any other treatment center, will have the benefit of.

This cancer innovation journey is not over. The test must be proven in the larger clinical studies hosted by GHS and eventually by other clinical institutions from across the nation. Patient enrollment here in Greenville is projected to begin early this year, and commercial launch of the first test could be as early as 2020.

So, just like the AT hiker who has hit a significant milestone midjourney, there are still miles to go. But it’s great to take a breath having summitted one of the biggest peaks on the way there. 

Matthew Gevaert, Ph.D, is the CEO of KIYATEC Inc., a Greenville company pioneering the ability to accurately predict individual cancer patients’ response to therapies. 

W. Jeffrey Edenfield, MD, is the medical director for GHS’ Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR), where KIYATEC is located.


Related Articles